The Indian Express interview with P S S Ali Shihab Thangal, IUML Leader, UDF election committee convenor in Wayanad: Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an ally of the Congress in Kerala and at the Centre, is in the limelight following Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat, where the party has a considerable presence. Attacking Rahul in his recent speech in Nagpur, BJP national president Amit Shah likened Wayanad to Pakistan, saying, “when a procession is taken out, you cannot make out whether it is in India or Pakistan”. Shah was hinting at the large number of IUML flags seen in Rahul’s procession when he filed his nomination papers on April 4.
Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath has dubbed IUML a ‘virus’ that has affected the Congress.
I would say it is due to his ignorance about the Muslim League. A virus grows only in a suitable body or medium. For the League, secularism is its body and no virus can grow in it. But what about Yogi’s past? Will anyone appreciate his days before he became the CM? His comments against the IUML show that he has not jettisoned his past. His statement will only demean his position as the CM.
The IUML’s activities are like an open book. We have offered charitable assistance to people irrespective of caste and creed. The League’s charitable activities are visible in North India also. We have constructed houses for destitute families in UP, Bihar and West Bengal.
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Do you think there is a lot of misinformation regarding the League?
The League has been a political party since its formation in 1948 and it has been a part of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala for the last half a century. We were a part of the CPM (government) in Kerala in 1967 and had a minister in UPA governments. When Rahul came to Wayanad as a candidate, national leaders might have noticed the strong base the League has in the constituency. They realised that we are a force to reckon with. Leaders like Yogi are jealous of our growth.
How do you see the BJP attacks?
Let PM Narendra Modi look back at the regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was the BJP government led by Vajpayee that deputed League leader and MP E Ahamed to represent India at the UN Assembly. Ahamed represented India at several diplomatic meetings and international fora. But now Modi has taken a partisan attitude towards the League.
When Babri Masjid was demolished, the League took a secular stand… Our then-president late Muhammedali Shihab Thangal urged Muslims to ensure that no temples were attacked. Our men offered help to pilgrims visiting Sabarimala, who were stranded in Kerala due to the shutdown called in the wake of the demolition. The League has always stood for communal harmony.
Is there a message to reduce the presence of League workers or flags in rallies following the remarks of the BJP?
No. The League is working as a part of the Congress-led UDF… Flags of the UDF will flutter high in Wayanad as Rahul Gandhi is fighting as a UDF candidate. In regions where the League has a considerable presence, of course, our workers and flags would be seen in larger numbers.
Do you see it as your responsibility to ensure the victory of Congress candidates in Kerala, including Rahul?
The IUML believes that the Congress is a party that has a presence in all states and whose roots are embedded in secularism. Its strength may be a disputable matter, but the present leadership of the party, led by Rahul Gandhi, has evoked much hope and enthusiasm among people. So the IUML believes that supporting the Congress in this election is a patriotic responsibility of the League.
What is the main concern of Muslims in Kerala?
Our concern is not just limited to Kerala, but to the lives of Muslims and Dalits across the country. In the last five years, Muslims have been targeted through incidents such as mob lynching. When the rights of citizens are not protected…, the best solution is a secular government.
In the fight against the BJP in Kerala, both the Congress-led UDF and CPM-led LDF are vying for the Muslim votes. But which alliance is likely to receive them?
It is true that the LDF has been trying to win over the community. But the problem with the CPM is that the party does not have the strength and pan-Indian presence to fight the BJP… Even if the party wants to fight the BJP, it has to align with the Congress. Even if they win all the seats in Kerala, the CPM will still not be able to take on the BJP at the national level… I think the minority votes would get concentrated to a single side this time.
If the Congress fails to form a government at the Centre, will the League review its alliance with the party?
The IUML will stand with a party which is for secularism. Our fight against fascism will continue. If the Congress is at the forefront of fighting fascism, we will stand with it. What will happen after the elections is only a hypothetical question.